Jerusalem Neighborhood Splits Memorial Day Ceremony Over Women Singing

Ultra-Orthodox residents of Har Homa will be able to opt for a separate event without female vocalists after objecting to women singers as a violation of Jewish religious tradition.

Jerusalem's Har Homa neighborhood
Olivier Fitoussi

The neighborhood committee for Jerusalem’s Har Homa quarter decided on Monday to hold separate Memorial Day ceremonies this year to accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jews who follow a strict interpretation of the religious prohibition that some Orthodox Jewish men observe against hearing women sing. After the first, formal part of the memorial ceremony, the event will continue in two adjacent halls, with participants choosing which one to attend. One event will not feature women singers.

Memorial Day is marked this year in Israel on the evening of April 30 and on May 1 during the day.

Last Sunday, before the agreement was reached, committee chairman Shlomo Golbary announced that no one would sing at the event. In earlier planning sessions, it had been agreed that the neighborhood rabbi and a secular resident would address the ceremony and that there would be no singing by adult performers, but a mixed children’s choir was scheduled to perform.

Despite these agreements, on Sunday Golbary issued a letter saying that the children’s choir would also have to go. “After consulting several individuals, it seems [the choir] will not be acceptable to all the residents, and therefore it appears to me that at this stage the right thing to do would be to cancel all the singing of any kind,” he wrote, adding that recorded music would be used instead.

Secular residents of Har Homa protested the decision. “This isn’t a struggle of secular versus Orthodox, it’s a struggle against the committee’s extremism, which is being felt in culture and education,” said Tami Dinowitz-Yamin, a secular activist from the neighborhood. “The problem is that the demand to show consideration is always made of the secular public,” she said.

“There is crazy and dangerous extremism here," added Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, a Jerusalem city council member for the Jerusalemites faction. “We must not revert back to the years when we fought against the exclusion of women from the public sphere and from the front of the stage. Whoever objects to girls singing in a choir, his problem is personal and personality-linked, not related to halakha,” a reference to traditional Jewish religious law.”

According to the most recent plan, the part of the ceremony catering to ultra-Orthodox residents will focus on “religious thought,” while the other will include singing, including women singers.

“Each public [sector] can choose for itself the place suitable for them, and it will be possible to move between the halls. We hope we will manage to unite, if only for a short time,” Gulbary wrote to the residents.

“Instead of finding a solution, they’re doing two events,” Dinovitz-Yamin complained. “The administration’s aim is to unite the residents and not bring them to such a situation.”

Har Homa is considered a secular neighborhood, but it is thought that slightly more than half its residents identify as religious Zionist; The ultra-Orthodox community in the neighborhood is small.